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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

The door of the sheep.

A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter

April 14, 2024 at Holy Communion

John 10:11–16

Jesus said: “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

This week I watched a documentary called Becoming Nobody about the life and teachings of Ram Dass, an American professor who travelled to India, studied under a guru, and returned to spread Eastern spiritual teachings, and found an audience especially with hippies in the 60s and 70s. What caught my interest, in light of my meditation this week on today’s Gospel, is how he described his relationship to his guru, whom he called Marharaj-ji. He says:

“I was living almost within this man. For the first time, I understood what the concept of a guru was about. See, a guru is your doorway to God, your doorway to the beyond. A guru is not just a groovy teacher. It’s not a pundit, a wise man who can teach you things. A guru is a spiritual vehicle, an entranceway. He’s a pure mirror; he isn’t anybody at all.”

That last remark, that Maharaj-ji wasn’t “anybody at all,” has to do with the title idea of the documentary: that the goal of our spiritual life is to “become nobody,” giving up all our pretences, and our attachments to living for self-opinion and the opinion of others, so that we can live instead in pure spirit, in compassion and attentive presence. This is only achieved by surrendering all sense of “ego” to God, since ego separates from the mystery of existence and from others.

The Christian language for this is in John 10, in the verse immediately after our selection for today. Jesus says, “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again.” He speaks about his historical death and resurrection, of course—but then Jesus’ death and resurrection are about every person in whom ego dies that spirit might live.

On the other side of our Gospel reading, before Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14) he first calls himself “the door of the sheep” (v 7, 9). “I am the door,” he says. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (v 8–9). Jesus himself is a door and and entryway, a means of passage for God’s flock into the pastures of the spirit.

But how can a person be a door? A person acts and interacts, has individuality. A door simply stands open for someone to pass through. And yet this metaphor for spiritual leadership returns to us intractably: it is the same thing Ram Dass said about his guru which so grabbed me, that he was “a doorway to the beyond.”

If a person’s individuality makes difficult to understand how he might be a “door,” perhaps that is the point. Only someone who has surrendered individuality be a “door to the beyond” for another person. Ego is the gate which prevents relationship with a person from being a point of passage into the realm of spirit. When someone is all ego, you encounter only him—his puffed-up pretensions block the way into the pastures of the spirit which he might otherwise open for you.

For Jesus to be the “door of the sheep” means that relationship with him opens the gates of the kingdom of the spirit to us. And this is only possible because, as he says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus yielded up all ego so that he could be a door for you. This is the cross.

Jesus, a master of flexible metaphor, also says that he is the “good shepherd.” He leads his sheep, who know his voice (v 4), into good pasture so that they “may have life and have it abundantly” (v 10).

Jesus moves beyond a metaphor in which he is a helpful absence, a gap in the wall between us and God. Now he has a positive relationship with us: he is a voice inviting us to pass through the gate. Jesus does not just lay down his life, but takes it up again—and yet not in a way that contradicts being the door. The life to which he rises is not the return of ego, but the vindication of a spirit which can still beckon from beyond the door once ego has been laid down.

The good shepherd is an Easter season gospel because this is the meaning of the resurrection. Christ dies to self, sacrificing his ego to God. He makes a way for us to approach God through him as we follow the example of his humility. Then he rises, and his rising is to a life of the spirit, a life (as we said on Easter Day) of feeding on the green pastures of the soul, the “fat things” of God’s table. The resurrection does not reverse the crucifixion, but instead completes it. Death to the flesh is necessary for life in the spirit (Romans 8:13, 1 Peter 3:18). We die to self so that we may live to God (Romans 6:10).

This is the teaching of our Lesson and Epistle as well. In the Lesson, the name of Jesus crucified and risen grants the restoration of spiritual wholeness (Acts 4:10). And in the Epistle we hear that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24), and that he is our shepherd (v 25). The Christian path, which follows the good shepherd through the gate of death, is emptying oneself to live in God for others.

Today, the invitation to this altar is an invitation to pass through Christ’s door and feed. And yet we must remember what passing through the door means: it means laying down your life, joining yourself to Christ in his self-abandonment.

Everything that insulates you from the mystery of being and the mystery of God’s love—and they are the same mystery—has to be left behind. Elsewhere in the documentary I mentioned, the teacher spoke about these things as our “space suit”: the thick protective barrier of likes and dislikes and affiliations and opinions about ourselves and opinions about others and anxieties and desires.

If you take this loaf and drink this cup, you must know yourself forever not as this or that sort of person, a person with individuality and self-regard, but as Christ, as a member of the one emptied himself that he might “fill all in all.”


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